Jack Dorsey: We Need Revolution, Not Disruption

“We probably need to change the name of this conference,” Twitter and Square co-founder Jack Dorsey said today from the stage of TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. As much as we love this conference, the media — and everyone else for that matter — tends to overuse the word “disrupt” when talking about the potential change inherent in technology. It tends to be used in conjunction with “fluff” rather than the revolutionary. Hard to call the rush to be the Instagram of Video, for example, a “disruptive” charge — at least in the purest sense.

In his keynote speech today, Dorsey issued a call for a change in the way we think of the technology we cover and the startups we create. “Revolution has value, revolution has purpose — a direction and leaders,” he said on stage, sounding like he was giving a sermon, rather than a keynote. “We don’t want ‘disruption,’ where we just move things around. We want a direction. We want a purpose.”

Dorsey asked founders and entrepreneurs to “pick a movement, a revolution, and join it” — as if to say that anything is worse than not being a part of something, contributing to a movement forward, rather than adding friction and moving against. But that isn’t to say that founders shouldn’t be bold, shouldn’t be causing fragmentation in the calcified ways that we think about the world, technology, and its role within it. Dorsey asked us to think of founders, instead, as leaders in a revolutionary sense.

It makes it easier to give your blood, sweat, tears and hard work, because you’re working within a revolution, working with a purpose. It was great to see Dorsey use, as he struck up his revolutionary mantras, a painting by Delacroix, called “La Liberte Guidant Le Peuple,” which means, for the non-French-speakers among us, “Freedom Leading The People.”

Becoming the closest thing the tech industry has to an entrepreneurial Confucius or Lao Tzu, Dorsey told the crowd that “life happens at intersections,” conjuring the importance of connections and crossroads, saying that “it’s important to recognize what’s happening in that intersection and determine what to do in it.” That may sound like cheap pocket wisdom, but it also brings up the Buddhist concept of “mindfulness.” These millions, thousands or hundreds of intersections in our lives are significant, but only if we’re able to pause, appreciate what’s occurring, especially within a macro context. Being aware is something founders don’t always do well — at least not in some of the ways they should.

As Dorsey continued, “companies evolve over time and have multiple founding moments,” so make one wrong decision and your future isn’t necessarily in peril, because building a company is a lengthy process and evolution, not something that can be built (and flipped) overnight.

Thanks to Romain Dillet for contributing to this post, and pointing me toward Delacroix.